Last week we noted how Comcast had imposed new limits on its shiny new "unlimited" wireless plans. The company informed users of its Xfinity Wireless service that moving forward, all video on the service would be throttled back to 480p, with plans to begin charging you more if you want to watch your video in full HD quality. As we noted then, this was just a continuation of a theme already established by wireless carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint, which involved imposing arbitrary throttling thresholds for games, music and video, then charging you additional money to get around those bogus limitations.
It shouldn't be particularly hard to see how imposing arbitrary limits that impede your ability to experience content as the originators intended sets a terrible precedent. And should the FCC's net neutrality repeal survive its looming legal challenge, you're going to see wireless carriers and ISPs slowly embrace more and more of this sort of thing, at least once they know for sure that the government has zero interest in actually policing such "creative" abuse of a broken market. What we're seeing now is just the orchestra getting warmed up.
Following on the heels of Comcast, Charter has launched its own wireless service offering that also promises users "unlimited" connectivity. But like Comcast's offering, Charter's service will also throttle all video to 480p. The company's Spectrum Mobile website explains how the industry's definition of "unlimited data" still leaves a little something to be desired:
"After 20 GB per line, you may experience reduced speeds for the rest of the bill cycle.
There are no additional fees for using your phone as a mobile hotspot. After 5 GB of mobile hotspot data use in the bill cycle, mobile hotspot speeds are reduced to a maximum of 600 kbps for the rest of the bill cycle. Mobile hotspot data counts toward your 20 GB high-speed data allowance. Remember, your laptop may consume more data than your phone would for similar activities.
DVD-quality video streaming is supported. Video typically streams at 480p."
As Sprint and T-Mobile try to sell regulators on their job and competition-eroding megamerger, one of their core justifications for the deal is that the reduction in total overall competitors from four to three is no big deal because cable operators are tinkering with wireless mitigating any real fallout. But that ignores a few things. Like the fact that T-Mobile's CEO previously laughed off these services as irrelevant and destined to fail. Or that Comcast and Charter lean on Verizon Wireless' network for backup, reducing their incentive to disrupt Verizon. And they've struck a deal that involves agreeing not to compete with each other.
As a result, Charter and Comcast's wireless plans are almost mirror images of one another, including the middle finger at net neutrality (aka your right to enjoy content as intended by the service you're subscribing to without your ISP injecting itself in the process to make an additional buck).
For now, Charter isn't charging you more to watch videos in actual HD, but you can be pretty certain that's coming down the road. With ISPs wary of the looming net neutrality court challenge, they're trying desperately to remain on their best behavior. As such, you're going to see very glacial moves toward tighter restrictions as these companies try to cash in on the one-two punch of limited competition and napping regulators like Ajit Pai. Initially -- like being unable to watch HD video on your phone -- they won't seem like the end of the world, but cumulatively and over time, you can be damn well assured it's going to hurt.